I recently read the book The Reformation by Owen Chadwick, about the Protestant Reformation and the situation in 15th and 16th century Europe. It is fascinating to read about Western Europe during a period when it was genuinely dynamic, not the anemic and self-loathing continent it is now. But still, I was also struck by how many similarities there are between the situation then and now. This was also during a period of Muslim aggression, as the Turks made inroads into the Balkans and Central Europe, eventually threatening even Western Europe.
Ironically, this period was also when the Greco-Roman heritage was rediscovered in the West. The classical heritage had been preserved in the East for a thousand years after the Western half of the Roman Empire collapsed, and with the pressures from Muslims, many Greek Byzantine scholars brought their texts with them to northern Italian cities such as Venice, thus fuelling the Renaissance.
However, the overall picture was one of Western division. Spain, which was probably the strongest nation in Europe during the 16th century, was after expelling Muslims from their own peninsula in 1492 more interested in looking westwards to the Americas rather than eastwards to the expanding Ottoman Empire.
The French even allied with the Muslims for their own short-term gains. According to Chadwick, "the French king had not hesitated to attempt alliance with the Turks when it suited his political need, and once allowed a Turkish admiral to celebrate the fast of Ramadan in the streets of Toulon." In general, "the European powers were more frightened of each other than of the Turk."
This was during the Second Jihad against the West. Now similar divisions are occurring during the Third Jihad. Not necessarily between countries, but between various cultural and ideological groups within the West.
It is especially interesting to see how the fall of Constantinople in 1453 affected the other Eastern churches, in particular in the rising Russian state which viewed itself as the successor of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. According to Chadwick, page 360-61:
The Russians always looked to Constantinople, received their faith from the south, felt themselves to participate in Christendom by means of their Slavonic Orthodoxy. By 1505 Russia had been created by Ivan III the Great out of the little principalities of the great plains. He married Sophia, the niece of the last Roman Emperor of Constantinople, and looked upon himself as the heir to the Christian heritage of East Rome. He took for the Russian arms the double-headed eagle of the Byzantines. These notions were powerful in the formation of Russian tradition and autocracy. We find a monk named Philotheos writing to the Tsar between 1505 and 1533: 'Two Romes have now fallen, and the third one, our Moscow, yet standeth; and a fourth one there shall never be […] In all the world thou alone art the Christian Tsar.'
This relationship can be detected clearly in art. Russian religious icons, as well as those in other Orthodox countries such as Bulgaria, have been strongly influenced by Byzantine art. Muslims in Russia are very much aware of this historic connection, which is why a group of top Muslim clerics in 2005 demanded that Orthodox Christian symbols should be removed from the Russian coat of arms.
People from Russia, a country which was once under the Tartar Yoke, should understand the Islamic threat. So why are the Russians helping The Islamic Republic of Iran with missile and nuclear technology that will eventually be used to intimidate non-Muslim countries?
In early 2007, during a meeting with the Russian foreign minister in Tehran, Iran's supreme leader Ali Khamenei was reported as calling for a cooperation between the two countries to halt US ambitions in the region. In 2005, President Vladimir Putin stated that Russia is the Islamic world's most reliable partner.
Are the Russians so naive that they believe this beast won't eventually come back to bite them, too? Iran has been secretly training Chechen Muslim rebels in sophisticated terror techniques to enable them to carry out more effective attacks against Russian forces, the Sunday Telegraph has revealed.
Russia's relationship with the West has always been complicated. As writer Alexander Boot, himself a Russian by birth, states, Russia is only partially Western and has never gone through some of the determening periods of the modern West, the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. The country's culture is a complex mix of Western, non-Western and a few anti-Western impulses. According to Boot, author Fyodor Dostoyevsky "sensed that Russia was irreconcilable with the Catholic West, which is why he believed that destroying the West was the holy mission of Russian Orthodoxy."
Some of the Russian skepticism towards the West is understandable. As long as Western nations pander to Muslims, why shouldn't the Russians do so, too? The reaction of European Union officials to the grotesque Islamic Beslan massacre of Russian school children, almost blaming it on the Russian security forces instead of the Islamic terrorists, rightly upset many Russians.
As Jihad Watch Board Vice President Hugh Fitzgerald notes, the American bombing of the Orthodox Serbs to aid Muslim Albanians was seen as an attack on a historic ally of Russia. He thinks the West should be proving to the Russian public that we are on the side of the Serbs, not the Muslims. We should ask them to do the same with Iran: "Russians want a task equal to their putative power, and what they see as their rightful place in the world. Helping the Old World come to its senses about Islam is such a worthy task. They might just consider it."
Perhaps the Russians should study more closely what happened to the Byzantines. In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), Robert Spencer discusses the sad case of the Byzantine Emperor John VI Cantacuzenes, who invited the Ottoman Turks into Europe to help him win a dynastic dispute. His invited guests overthrew his Empire about 100 years later, and have stayed in Europe to this day.
Islam was controlled in the Soviet Union but has had a renaissance since its downfall in 1991, helped by oil money from the Middle East. This re-Islamization of Central Asia should worry the Russians. They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a border security project, partly to avoid being demographically overwhelmed by Muslims. But Russia, too, has a large and growing Muslim population, and a non-Muslim population in marked decline. It is not impossible, if current trends continue, that Russia could either disintegrate completely or be majority Muslim within this century. Russia's non-Muslim population is declining, but numbers are rising in Muslim regions. Will the country called Russia still exist in the future? And if so, will it be the Russia of Pushkin or of Abdullah?
It is understandable that the Russians have Great Power ambitions of their own. However, one would hope that they will wake up, remember their history and realize that there are worse threats out there than American power.
Some of them do. Elena Chudinova, the author of the dystopian novel The Mosque of Notre Dame de Paris, says that if the Muslims were to succeed in establishing their own rule in Moscow, then Russian culture, Russians as a people and Russia itself would cease to exist. And because that danger is not unthinkable, she is calling for a struggle against the Islamic threat to the Christian world.
After Constantinople, the Second Rome and the last remaining vestige of the Roman Empire, in the 15th century was overrun by Muslims, Moscow became the Third Rome. Will the Third Rome fall to Muslims in the 21st century, just as the Second Rome did in the 15th? Or will the Russian people rise to the occasion and defeat the threat, as they have done in the past?